House Democrats on Thursday took the extraordinary step of voting to strip committee assignments from a member of the opposite party, saying Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) had forfeited her right to those seats by endorsing conspiracy theories, racist dogma and violence against Democratic politicians.
Lawmakers passed the resolution largely along party lines — 230-199, with 11 GOP defections — to remove Greene from the House education and budget committees after Republicans declined to take action against her themselves.
The debate over Greene’s fate has become emblematic of the larger brawl over the direction and future of the Republican Party in post-Trump Washington. The former president has moved to Florida, his Twitter account shut down, but retains enormous influence over GOP base voters drawn to the nationalist, no-apologies persona that defined his time in the White House — a mold Greene has assumed, with Trump’s enthusiastic support.
Democrats implored the GOP to hold members of Congress to what they think should be a minimal standard: that anyone who has endorsed political violence or embraced conspiracy theories like suggesting school shootings were staged or QAnon – whose supporters attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 – has no business serving on committees.
But House Republicans, wary of angering the GOP base that embraces Trump and Greene, have stepped to her defense. While condemning Greene’s incendiary comments, they also maintain that most were made before she became a member of Congress and therefore shouldn’t be disqualifying.
Republicans further warned that Democrats were setting a dangerous precedent with the majority party taking unilateral action to dictate the minority’s committee roster.
“I think you are, frankly, overlooking the unprecedented nature of the acts that you've decided upon, and where that may lead us when the majority changes,” said Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), the senior Republican on the Rules Committee.
Given the extraordinary nature of Greene’s past stances, however, Democrats said they had no qualms about setting an institutional precedent on Thursday.
“If any of our members threatened the safety of other members, we'd be the first ones to take them off of a committee,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Relegated to the minority after losing the White House, Senate and House, Republicans are trying to maintain what House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) described as a “very big tent.” Their dilemma is in locating a strategy that attracts the pro-Trump nationalist base, exemplified by Greene, without repelling other groups of voters — women, independents, suburbanites — vital to their party’s national success.
The delicate effort to thread that needle was on display in the Capitol Wednesday night, where House Republicans voted privately on the fate of another of their members, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who fended off a challenge to her position as the party’s conference chair after voting to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Greene, meanwhile, received a standing ovation during Wednesday night’s closed-door GOP conference meeting after she apologized for embracing QAnon – which baselessly claims that Democrats and other public figures are running a global child sex-trafficking ring – and other conspiracy theories.
Hours before Thursday’s vote, Greene delivered a speech on the House floor where she defended her foray into the world of online conspiracy theories, but insisted she had more recently recognized the falsities — and dangers — of those narratives.
Greene described how she’d “stumbled across” QAnon in late 2017 and began posting about it on Facebook while she was “upset about things and didn’t trust the government.”
Later in 2018, Greene said, “when I started finding misinformation, lies, things that were not true in these QAnon posts, I stopped believing it.”
Greene also disavowed her previous support for several conspiracy theories, declaring a belief that school shootings are “absolutely real” and that 9/11 “absolutely happened.”
But as Greene concluded her speech, she adopted a more defiant tone, blasting unnamed Democrats for what she suggested was their encouragement of the violence that, at times, accompanied last year’s national protests against police brutality.
"If this Congress is to tolerate members that condone riots that have hurt American people, attack police officers, occupy federal property, burn businesses and cities, but yet wants to condemn me and crucify me in the public square for words that I said, and I regret, a few years ago, then I think we're in a real big problem,” she said.
Greene also took a shot at the mainstream media, equating the veracity of its information to that espoused by QAnon.
“Will we allow the media, that is just as guilty as QAnon of presenting truth and lies, to divide us?” Greene said.
That promptly drew a rebuke from House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who called the comparison “beyond the pale.”
Greene’s speech was just as notable for what she didn’t say. Greene did not address a primary driver of Thursday’s vote: her repeated indications of support for violence against Democrats.
Greene previously liked a Facebook comment in January 2019 that said "a bullet to the head would be quicker" to remove Pelosi. And when a Facebook commenter asked her in April 2018 "now do we get to hang them," referring to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Obama, Greene responded: "Stage is being set. Players are being put in place. We must be patient. This must be done perfectly or liberal judges would let them off."
And last September, Greene posted a photo of herself holding a gun alongside images of progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) with the caption “Squad’s Worst Nightmare.”
McCarthy said that he proposed moving Greene from the Education and Labor Committee to the Small Business Committee instead as a possible compromise, given the particular outrage over her skepticism of school shootings. But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Democrats rejected the offer, arguing that Greene shouldn’t have the privilege of sitting on any committees.
McCarthy did take punitive action against former Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) two years ago for making remarks considered racist and booted him from committees.
“If this is the new standard, I look forward to continuing up the standard. Because if you look for a side that has a leadership that's done something when their members do something as a member, not prior, look to me,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy pledged during House floor debate that he will “hold [Greene] to her words and her actions moving forward.”
While House Republicans rallied behind Greene on Thursday, their Senate counterparts have gone out of their way to distance themselves from her.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the second-ranking Senate Republican, warned on Thursday that Republicans need to “get away from members dabbling in conspiracy theories.”
“I don’t think that’s a productive course of action or one that’s going to lead to much prosperity politically in the future,” Thune said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this week condemned Greene’s embrace of “loony lies and conspiracy theories” as a “cancer for the Republican Party.”
Democrats have happily embraced those comments, citing them throughout the debate to pressure McCarthy and House Republicans to take action against Greene themselves.
“Why would Kevin McCarthy continue to associate himself and the Republican Conference with someone who Leader Mitch McConnell has characterized as a cancer?” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus. “The last time I checked, cancers need to be cut out and not allowed to metastasize.”